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Aussies to help build Super Scope

Artist's impression of Giant Magellan Telescope

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope, for which ANU teams will design and build instrumentation.

  • Giant Magellan Telescope will be the biggest optical telescope in the world
  • It’ll produce images 30 times sharper than currently possible from the ground
  • ANU teams will contribute instrumentation to give GMT its ‘eyes’

AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY researchers are helping to build a super-sized telescope that will allow scientists to see deeper into space in the visible light range than ever before.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)—with a primary mirror the equivalent of 24.5 metres in diameter—will produce astronomical images up to 30 times sharper than existing ground-based telescopes.

Launching the next stage of the ANU’s Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre (AITC) at Mount Stromlo in Canberra, Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr said the GMT promises to answer some of astronomy’s biggest questions.

“It will tell us about the early universe including formation of the first stars and the evolution of galaxies only a few million years after the Big Bang,” Senator Carr said.

The ANU—which is developing instrumentation for the $700 million telescope—is part of an international consortium that will build the telescope in the Chilean Andes.

Artist's impression of Giant Magellan Telescope

The $700 million Giant Magellan Telescope will see 30 times sharper than current ground-based telescopes.

The government is contributing nearly $90 million towards the telescope through the Education Investment Fund—$65 million for our share of construction costs and $23.4 million to ANU for enhancements to the AITC, development of new instruments for the telescope and for industry engagement.

The funding, on behalf of the ANU and the Australian astronomical community through Astronomy Australia Ltd, would buy Australian astronomers time on the telescope once it is operational later this decade.

“This will be the premier optical-infrared facility for our astronomers. Being part of the consortium building the telescope will keep Australia at the forefront of optical astronomy, complementing the radio-based capabilities of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA),” Senator Carr said. “The association will further strengthen our case to host the SKA.

Australia’s part in building the GMT is expected to create at least 95 highly skilled jobs and at least 145 other supporting positions.

History of innovation

The ANU, through its Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA, and its forerunner, the Mount Stromlo & Siding Spring Observatory, MSSSO) has a long history of technological innovation, and has designed and built instrumentation that is now used in Australia and overseas.

In the early 1980s, the then MSSSO built the 2.3-metre Advanced Technology Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory. It featured an altitude-azimuth (‘swivel and tilt’) mounting design, which was very uncommon at the time but which has become the standard for large telescope these days.

GSAOI being lifted into place

The ANU-designed Gemini South Adaptive Optics Imager (GSAOI) being lifted into place on the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

This was followed by several advanced imaging and spectrographic instruments for Australian and international observatories, including the European Southern Observatory in Chile, plus equipment for an astronomy site testing station in Antarctica.

In more recent times, RSAA has designed and built instruments for some of the largest telescopes in the world.

One of these units is NIFS—the Near-infrared Integral-Field Spectrograph—which is used on the Gemini South telescope in Chile, one of the largest telescopes in the world. Worth $6 million, NIFS was designed by RSAA and rebuilt by Canberra firm AUSPACE (after the original NIFS was destroyed in the Canberra bushfires in 2003).

NIFS enables astronomers to observe astronomical objects at a resolution on par with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Another success story is GSAOI—the Gemini South Adaptive Optics Imager—which is due to go live on Gemini South later this year. GSAOI is a wide-field imaging system that operates in the near-infrared part of the spectrum and, like NIFS, gives almost Hubble-like views of the cosmos.

Adapted from information issued by ANU. Images courtesy ANU / GMT Office / Gemini Observatory.

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Gigantic telescope a step closer

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will combine seven 8.4-metre primary mirror segments into the equivalent of a 24.5-metre telescope. To be built in Chile, construction will start in 2012.

  • Giant Magellan Telescope to be built in Chile
  • University of Chicago joins the team
  • Will see 100 times fainter than Hubble

The University of Chicago has joined the effort to build the world’s largest telescope, as the quest continues for answers to some the deepest mysteries of modern cosmology.

The University will provide US$50 million to become a founding partner in the project called the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be able to produce images of objects 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope can detect.

“The University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is among the best astronomy and astrophysics departments in the country and worldwide,” said Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories and chairperson of the GMT Organisation.

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

Institutions from the USA, Australia and Korea are members of the Giant Magellan Telescope consortium.

“This is exactly the kind of partner we need to make this ambitious telescope project a success.”

The other founding GMT partners are the Carnegie Institution for Science, University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University, Australian National University, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, Astronomy Australia Ltd, and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.

Construction of the GMT will begin at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, in 2012 and will take approximately seven years to complete.

“Chicago has a great tradition in exploring the universe,” said Robert Kirshner, Harvard’s Clowes Professor of Science.

“At the founding of the university, Chicago built the world’s largest telescope at Yerkes, Chicago trained Edwin Hubble, the leading astronomer of the 20th century, and now they’re looking to be leaders in the field for the 21st century.”

GMT will tackle the big questions

UChicago also has committed an additional US$14 million to join the related consortium that currently operates the twin 6.5-metre Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas. These arrangements guarantee that UChicago scientists will receive a share of observing time on the telescopes, a critical component of pioneering cosmological research.

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be able to study astronomical objects 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope can see.

These telescopes are necessary tools for prying loose answers to the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter, two of the biggest questions confronting modern cosmologists.

Dark energy is a repulsive force of unknown origin that is accelerating the expansion of the universe.

Dark matter is a material of unknown composition that is far more plentiful in the universe than the ordinary matter of everyday life.

Theories and observations have convinced most cosmologists that dark energy and dark matter exist in huge amounts, but their precise nature has remained elusive.

The $700 million GMT will combine seven 8.4-metre primary mirror segments into the equivalent of a 24.5-metre telescope (nearly 82 feet). The first mirror, now under development at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, will be completed late this year.

Adapted from information issued by the University of Chicago / GMT Consortium.

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Super scope gets funding boost

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). Three countries have signed up to take part, including Australia. The GMT will search for planets around other stars, and look into the distant cosmos towards the beginning of time.

  • Huge 24.5m optical system
  • Images 10 times sharper than Hubble
  • Australia is one of the partners

Construction of a giant telescope that will take pictures 10 times sharper than Hubble, has moved a step closer with a new funding announcement.

The Carnegie Institution for Science has enthusiastically endorsed the construction of the proposed Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). The GMT will be the first in the next generation of astronomical observatories that will drive new scientific discoveries.

The Carnegie board authorised the commitment of US$59.2 million for the design, construction, and commissioning of the telescope to supplement the US$19.9 million that Carnegie has already committed to the project.

At this time more that 40% of the total funding required to construct the GMT has been committed by the Founding Institutions. It’s hoped that the other partners in the project will soon commit the remainder of the funds that will allow the telescope to be brought into service.

The GMT will be built at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, and will be operated by a consortium of institutions from the United States, South Korea, and Australia.

Australia’s share in the GMT is held by the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Ltd, a national body whose ” core business is to manage programmes which provide astronomers with access to … optical/infrared and radio astronomy infrastructure.” Australia has committed AU$88 million as its full allocation of the total cost of the project, giving it a 10% share in the telescope.

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

The GMT's seven mirrors will give the same effect as one mirror 24.5 metres wide.

10 times better than Hubble

Larger and more powerful than any previous optical telescope, the GMT will have ten times the light-gathering power of current ground-based telescopes, and will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The GMT will use the latest in Adaptive Optics technology to remove blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere to produce images with unprecedented sensitivity and clarity.

The novel design of the GMT will combine seven 8.4-metre primary mirror segments resulting in an equivalent 24.5-metre telescope. The first so-called off-axis mirror, under development at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, will be completed by the end of the year.

The GMT is poised to address some of the most fundamental and outstanding questions in astronomy: the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, the origin of the first stars and first galaxies, and how stars, galaxies and black holes evolve over time. One of the particular strengths of the GMT will be its ability to image planets around nearby stars and to search for signs of life in their atmospheres.

In the United States the participating institutions are the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The two Australian members of the Founders group are the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Limited.

The South Korean government approved participation in the GMT project, with the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute as the representative of the Korean astronomical community.

Both Australia and Korea have funded their 10% shares.

Adapted from information issued by Carnegie Institution for Science / GMT.